Pulled In Different Directions IWSG June 4, 2014

Welcome to the first Wednesday of June, IWSG day.  This is the once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers’ Support Group .  We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

Pulled in Different Directions

There is a saying in academic circles: publish or perish.  In other words, if you are a professor and you wish to be taken seriously and have your career blossom, you had jolly well better write something that is published and met with acclaim.  So (in academic circles, or at least the ones I am familiar with) you see a lot of scrambling and panic and despair if the proposed publication does not somehow make the grade. 
       I have heard time and again that in order to be read, a writer must write.  This is not as simple as it sounds, at least to me.  It is taken to mean that a writer must present his or her reading public with a steady stream of writings so that, one book being devoured, another is ready to be savored. 
       People have contacted me recently and asked when the second and third books of a trilogy will be published.  This is a tremendous compliment, and very gratifying, but it introduces a sense of urgency, a sense of ‘time’s a-wasting’.   
(‘I’m in a hurry to get things done, so I rush and rush until life’s no fun.  All I’ve ever got to do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why’ [Alabama])
So what do you do?
In my case, faced with the thought that my last work was published in October of 2013, I scrambled to get book II of the trilogy ready.  It was blocked out, it had some good flow to it.  Book III was better, longer established. I had realized that the story had a center part between Volume I and what had originally been Volume II, and it needed to be developed.  I started it in earnest six months ago, working on an old timeline. I set a December publication date.  I plotted and pantsed and typed and went over and over what I had, and then I sat back and took stock.  The story was there…and it wasn’t very good.  It was exhausted, stale.  The words were there, the thoughts were there, but writing that book was like trying to run up the side of a sand dune.  Forget the thought of dancing.
I know my own (current) capabilities.  I knew I could bring it in by December.  But at what cost?  My own exhaustion, certainly.  Worse, that stretched, dry, rushed endeavor would be a waste of my readers’ time.

The projected work, elegant in its concept…

They wanted to know what happened to a specific character.  Book III brings a very satisfying resolution, with a lot of adventure, suspense and laughter along the way (he’s that kind of kid).  But people would have to slog through Book II before they hit that resolution.   And that was where the problem was:  If a reader was opening Book II and expecting something like this:

How could I possibly even think of producing something like this?

Finished in a hurry…  Sort of.  Happy author?  Uh, no…

The fact is that I couldn’t. 

And that led to a revelation that should not have surprised me.  I can’t put out something that is consciously hurried.  It is an insult to the story and to the reader to withhold my best effort.  And – let’s admit this – it is disrespectful to our own talents and abilities not to endeavor to produce our very best.

Yes, the passing years will (I hope) bring improvement.  Something I wrote twenty years ago, that made me happy, may not be satisfactory now that I have lived and practiced and grown those twenty years.  But at that time it was my best.

So what is going on with Book II?

I contacted my editor and told him that it would be badly rushed if I pushed for a December release.  (He agreed.)  I took down any mention of the projected December date.  I took a deep breath, uploaded a mobi version of the working manuscript onto my Kindle and started adjusting it.  Tweaking wordings, contemplating the possible plot passages…  Opening myself to the luxury of writing an excellent story, fit to follow the first and lead to the third.

I have something small and fun that I can polish in my spare time and put out in December.  A fable that children and happy adults might enjoy.

And I can savor creating something beautiful.  That is, after all, what we writers live to do.  Isn’t it?

Check out the hop.  There are some fabulous, unhurried posts to savor:


Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Today is the first  Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers’ Support Group (click the words to visit)

We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

Today is also the second day of the A to Z Blog Hop (which I am enjoying, but not participating in because I have a whole lot of other things that I have committed to including finishing an installment of a trilogy by Christmas, participating in Camp NaNo, working (my job keeps me busy) and other things.

This month I will share a graphic that expresses beautifully, at least for me, a writer’s reaction to someone who:

  1. doesn’t ‘GET’ your work.
  2. insists on saying so
  3. tells everyone you are a writer 
  4. tells everyone how many books you are selling (and they have no idea of the number)
  5. insists on sitting you down and telling you how the thing should have ended
  6. gets miffed when you take a half hour to write
  7. tells you what you should write so that you may make money

What do you do?


This is a blog hop with lots of good participation.  Go forth and read!


Celebrations – February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It is Friday again, and a time to stop and take stock of the small things we celebrate.  Thanks to VikLit, who had the idea for this wonderful bl0g hop, we enjoy the thoughts of all that is worth noticing and celebrating.

Why don’t you join the hop?  Details are at the end of this post.

What am I celebrating today?  Hm.  digging out of a bad snowstorm for starters.  It led to some lovely views of snowing and blowing.

My neighbor came over with his snow-blower and cleared my driveway, which was wonderful of him (and will earn him a generous gas card).

I’ve been watching the fire burning in the wood stove, sitting with my cats, scrumbling my elderly dog, cooking, and working from home.  It was nice.

But what I am celebrating at the moment is a plot breakthrough.  I am working on a trilogy, the first of which, The Orphan’s Tale, is already out.  (You can read sample chapters on my website: www.dianawilderauthor.com ) 

The story was originally envisioned as one volume, but it grew in the telling.  The first volume is polished, the third, which is very active, intriguing and has a heartwarming conclusion (at least for me) is nearly set, but the middle one was dragging.  Things weren’t working.

And then I had a brainstorm.  It is working.
I’ve been writing a pivotal scene that is set in a fine restaurant in 1834 Paris, and it has had me chuckling aloud.  Count d’Anglars is the French Minister of Police.  Malet is the senior Chief Inspector in Paris.  They refer to ‘Lamarque’, who is the Prefect of Police for Paris.  They are dining in a very fine restaurant.

          d’Anglars brought his napkin to his lips as the waiter brought the platter to him.  “Thank you.  This is excellent.  My dear sir, allow me to serve you some of this braised carp in burgundy,” he said, setting a portion on Malet’s plate.  “It is justly famous.”
         Malet, eyeing the dish, mentally acknowledged some deep-seated reservations regarding purple fish.  He cut a piece and tasted it, located the saltcellar, and spooned salt over the portion.
         “But you have not touched your oysters, dear sir!  Fines de Claire, the best I have seen in a long time!  The blue color comes from algae upon which they feed.  Do try them – such a splendid taste.”
         Malet eyed the oysters that lay in their juice in the shells.  He had long ago found oysters reminiscent of nothing so much as the eye of a person who is making a grimace by pulling his lower lid down and rolling his eye upward.  If algae made these items blue, he thought, he would never, ever eat a brown or green oyster.
         d’Anglars was still watching him with the enjoyment of one who shares what he considers a rare treat.
         Malet speared one of the specimens with a fork, lifted an eyebrow at the juice that came squirting out and then brought it to his lips.  The salt scent of the ocean smote him in the nose.  He held his breath, deposited the oyster in his mouth and swallowed, following that effort with a large mouthful of iced Chevalier Montrachet and a chunk of bread.
         d’Anglars watched him reach for another oyster. “Wait,” he said.  “I perceive that the effort of swallowing that oyster was less than gratifying.”
         The mouthful gone, Malet sipped his wine again and set it down.  “I was raised beside the ocean,” he said.  “It was under my window.  All its smells and sounds.  I miss it sometimes…”
         “I imagine, then, that there are parts of it that you do not miss, sir.”  d’Anglars motioned to the servant, who was standing nearby and grinning.  “Bring a dish of beef, if you please.  Your excellent roast in the claret sauce, if it is available.  And that excellent Chambertin that I enjoyed the last time I was here.”
         He turned back to Malet, who was surreptitiously swishing the Montrachet in his mouth and then swallowing with an effort.  d’Anglars winced.  “And since they are a penance for you, I will gladly suffer through the rest of your oysters.”
         Malet frowned a little, but the beef in claret sauce was beautifully prepared, and the rest of the meal that followed was equally delicious.  d’Anglars’ second daughter, Clémentine, was planning for her coming-out party, and was hoping that ‘M. l’Inspecteur’ would perhaps ask her to waltz with him, since it had been he who had taught her at the first ball she had attended, however surreptitiously, at the age of seven.
         The memory made Malet smile.  Some questions had come up with matters that predated M. Lamarque’s return from Plombières.  d’Anglars brushed them aside.  “M. le Préfet will be returning to complete his cure.”
         “Then his gout has returned?”
         “No,” said d’Anglars.  “He has a different sort of pain that came on suddenly.”
         “Pain?  Surely not his heart!”  Malet remembered various occasions when the Prefect had dealt with an issue by clutching at his breast and announcing that he was not long for the world if the vexing matter was not resolved.
         “No, not his heart,” d’Anglars said, nodding to the waiter, who brought a decanter of cognac.  He poured a glass for Malet and one for himself, and stretched his legs out before him.  “He will be returning for a resumption of the cure and you, sir, will take his place once more.  You handled matters with such distinction the last time, I have great hopes that you will again.”
         Malet was frowning.  “This is very sudden.  He is not in any danger?”
         “Not at all.”
         “But you mentioned pain.  If not his heart, then…”  The thought of the Prefect ill was not reassuring.
         “It is somewhat south of that organ,” d’Anglars was gazing at Malet through the golden cognac with the hint of a smile.  “In fact, the pain manifests itself when he sits.”
         “Lumbago?  If he is truly ill-“
         “It is nothing that some time away from here, with good news at the end of it, will not cure.”
         When will he leave?”
         “Immediately.  We will speak with him tomorrow before his departure.”  d’Anglars sipped the cognac and set the glass down.  “I fear, though, that the farewell may bring on a recrudescence of his symptoms.”
         Malet’s eyes narrowed.  “This is because of me, isn’t it?”
         d’Anglars sat back and swirled the cognac in his glass.  “I am afraid that it is.”
         “We envisioned it yesterday.  I am very sorry that we were correct.”
         He eyed Malet’s expression.  “I am assigning a bodyguard, my dear Malet, Effective immediately.  Your presence outside a certain doorway in a particularly filthy part of Paris has led to repercussions with which we must deal, M. Vidocq and I. You are a most troublesome fellow, sir. But indispensable, personally and professionally.”
         Malet pushed his cognac away.  “I don’t understand.”
         “Nor do we. But we will.”

         It is so nice when things fall together.  This weekend should be very productive.  (Scrapping an unsatisfactory plot line is always fun…)

(And I am remembering that today is a Friday!  I hope you all have wonderful weekends.)


Science versus instinct…

I subscribe to an excellent blog about writing. (Several, in fact, but I’m talking about a particular one for the time being.)  It is humorous, colorful, lots of photos, and some very good sense.  To use a phrase I don’t generally like, I can validate the blogger’s comments from my own experience.  The blogger is right on point.

A recent series of posts, however, had to do with characters – heroes, villains, miscellaneous.  What makes them tick, what makes them admirable or despicable, or whatever.    Nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been said before, but reading the blog post made me raise my eyebrows.

The post said, essentially:

  So, you have this fabulous protagonist.  He is handsome and smart and you just love him to death.  You want to read about him all the time and writing about him is a wonderful experience.  He’s the best thing since toothbrushes were invented… the problem is that your hero needs a conflict.

It went on to give examples of conflicts: love life, past crime, past wrong, inherited problem, illness, money… 

“Well, yeah,” I said, propping my feet on my footstool and shooing my cat away from my mouse as I clicked away from the post and opened one of my two WIPs. “Of course.”
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I polished and tweaked and as I was doing this, almost on autopilot, my mind was clicking away with that blog post and others like it.  Why did they sit oddly for me?  Others were snapping them up.

I figured it out, finally. 

It was like reading a ‘how to’ manual.

Step 1.  Get a character
Step 2   Give the character a conflict.  Some obstacle he has to overcome.
Step 3   Do whatever else is in the works…

I had a mental picture of someone, the target audience of the blog, if you will, saying “I want to be a writer.  OK, so I get a character and give him a conflict. Now what?”

The next step is to formulate an antagonist.  Why is he opposed to the protagonist?

These are good step-by-step explanations of what goes into making a story, but for me, at least, they are…well, not useless, but beside the point. 

I don’t start out by saying, “I am going to tell a story.  Let me see…  I need a hero.  What is he going to do?  Hm.  And who is he facing?” 

For me, I can see a situation.  Using a very old example that may never be put into print, how about one of the officers of a troop of mercenaries who is in the middle of a very slow summer and wondering how they are going to make ends meet.  (This is in a universe similar to late medieval Europe.)  They have received a lucrative offer from a notorious pirate-prince who needs top quality maritime troops and is willing to pay for them.  This would be excellent pay, but a somewhat elevated probability of disaster.  They have also received an offer from a local prince who needs a force to fight fires in his bailiwick while he trains a fire-fighting group and gets it in place.  This involves low pay, relatively speaking, and a somewhat unexciting locale, but minimizes the chance of a messy death for the members of the troop.  That’s the snapshot as it popped into my mind.  I didn’t have to go down a checklist and populate things.  There they were, and everything fell together.

The story moved from there.  It did not write itself.  Some happenings were ruled out as not in keeping with the characters I was dealing with (even though the events themselves were as funny as all get-out).  Some were ruled out because they were utterly stupid, some because I had come up with a better way of handling things.  It was all pretty instinctive.

After some thought I concluded that the series of posts read like recipes.  Do this, add that, follow up with this and you will have a novel.

Utterly ridiculous!

…or was it?

Think about it: read the words to this song and you’ll find all of the ingredients they talk about:

Come listen to a story ‘bout a man named Jed,
 A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.
 And then one day he was shootin’ at some food,
When up through the ground came a-bubbling crude.
(Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.)

Well, the first thing you know old Jed’s a millionaire.
 His kinfolk said “Jed, move away from there!”
Said, “Californy is the place we oughta be!”
So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.
               (Hills, that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars.)

With a little imagination you can see the hero, understand the conflicts and, possibly, have an inkling about the antagonists.

The Latke Revelation

When I was in college, I went into the student union of a group of which I was Vice President.  We allowed a couple other groups to use the space when they needed to, since they had no digs of their own and we were a hospitable bunch.  On the evening in question, I walked into the most delicious smells imaginable.  One of the other groups – the Hillel Society, as it happens – was having its Chanukah festivities with traditional foods.  I had a lot of friends in the Hillel Society, and they snagged me and urged me to eat their delicious food.  Which I did.  Gladly.

They had latke there.  I’d had potato pancakes, but never latke.  I got the recipe from a beaming friend and over the next many years made latke at the drop of a hat.  At some point in one or another of the nine moves since then, I lost the recipe.  So what?  I made latke as I always made latke and everyone loved it.   …then I found the recipe.

What?  HOW much flour?  Baking powder?  I don’t remember that!  Is this the—no, it is.  There’s the oil spot.  What HAPPENED???

Well, what happened is that I grew familiar with the recipe and added my own touches over time.  The latke is, and always was, delicious.  But I had to start with a recipe.  I don’t consult the original one any more because I don’t need to.  I work by instinct now.  How many times have you tried to duplicate something done superbly by a friend or family member, following  the recipe to the letter, and fallen short of the other’s perfection.  …and then discovered that they did things by eye or left out a step there? Or something?

So it is with those passages of instruction in the various blogs.  From time immemorial stories have had rules.  There’s a character with a conflict (or quest or desire – however you wish to put it) and he’s up against something that may make it difficult to achieve his aim.  There are twists and turns.

The bottom line, for me, is this:

I guess we all have to start with a recipe (people tend to read those more than they do assembly instructions), but at some point you have to trust your own instincts.  …and your beta readers and editors.

(If anyone wants the latke recipe – my permutation – say so in the comments…)

In with the new…

I have at least two projects underway in any given time.  This has several benefits:

  1. It helps to minimize the strange sense of grieving I suffer from when I’ve finished a story and am no longer dealing with a group of characters that I have come to love.  I remember I received this advice years ago from an editor.  “Never have only one work in the pipeline,” she told me.  “It’ll help you cope with finishing a work.”  I learned the hard way that she was right. 
  2. It helps to minimize writer’s block.  I think it’s sometimes the result of working too intensively on a specific project to the exclusion of everything else.  It is an excellent way to burn out.  Switch off to something fresh and you can catch your breath, and regain your stride.
  3. It will give you an excuse not to work on something.  Actually, this isn’t a benefit.

At the moment I’m finishing the first draft of Mourningtide.  I’m also working on Crowfut Gap, a novel set in Civil War Virginia, near the West Virginia border.  There’s another Egyptian story, The Jubilee, which I started a few years back.  It’s moving along slowly as things occur to me and I jot them down.

Lately I have been going back to a period that is slightly after A Killing Among the Dead.  Ranefer is the last of his line, a family decimated by a systemic ailment that has killed them one after another, leaving only him, the third son of a king, the brother of two kings and the uncle of another.  Egypt is crumbling; What is to be done if you are Lord of the Two Lands, and The Two Lands has forgotten that it has a Lord?

It is a bittersweet story (in its current shape) and puts an unusual twist on history as we know it.

The twist came to me as I was driving the three hundred odd miles home from Upstate New York.   I think it may work.  It might help if I stopped blogging and typed it, but I can mull it over a little more…

Only 6,800 words currently, but it should grow nicely – once I really start working on it.